The Sriracha Lawsuit: Is the Popular Hot Sauce Also a Public Nuisance?

Makers of the hot sauce Sriracha have been feeling the regulatory heat recently from the southern California city of Irwindale, ever since processing at the company’s plant led to complaints of burning eyes, sore throats, and headaches from a number of locals.

The city of Irwindale filed a lawsuit against Huy Fong Foods, manufacturers of Sriracha, alleging that odors emanating from the facility amount to a “public nuisance.” The city is seeking an injunction which would force the company to cease all chile processing operations that are causing the olfactory offense, and even asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would halt all such processing immediately. On October 31, the judge refused to issue the TRO and ruled that the factory can stay open for now. A hearing is set for November 22.

So, what is a “public nuisance”? For the most part, it’s just what it sounds like. It occurs when the defendant property owner (here, Huy Fong Foods) engages in some sort of conduct that is offensive or harmful to a large segment of the community. The conduct can produce sound, odor, even vibrations or some other disturbance that is offensive or obnoxious.

If a small number of local homeowners were suing the company directly, that would be a “private nuisance” action. Private nuisance cases are similar to personal injury cases in that you can get money damages when the defendant’s conduct interferes with your use and enjoyment of your property. But usually this kind of lawsuit also asks a court to force the defendant to stop doing the thing that is causing the alleged harm.

Learn more about Private Nuisance vs. Public Nuisance Cases and Remedies Available for Private Nuisance.

Since the judge in the Sriracha case denied Irwindale’s request for immediate closure of the plant, fans of the hot sauce can spice things up at their pleasure for now. But if the nation does face a “Rooster Sauce” crisis, the N.Y. Daily News offers these Sriracha alternatives in case there’s a shortage.